PLENARY: The Roots of Animal Abuse and Neglect and the Connections of Such Crimes to Interpersonal and Societal Violence


SPEAKER: Dr. Frank Ascione, PhD, Scholar-in-Residence, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver

In the 1750s, British artist William Hogarth foresaw the relation between intimate partner violence, other forms of antisocial behaviour and childhood animal abuse. However, not until the late 20th century did mental health researchers formally acknowledge the importance of assessing cruelty to animals in children and adolescence as a symptom of Conduct Disorder. And only in the past 20 years have empirical investigations examined animal abuse in the context of intimate partner violence.

In this plenary, Dr. Ascione will review the history of research on these issues, as well as recent revisions in psychiatric diagnostic criteria (e.g. the callous/unemotional specifier) that are relevant for understanding animal abuse perpetrated by youth. Research on animal abuse in the context of intimate partner violence highlights its prevalence and the reasons animal abuse may be used by perpetrators of intimate partner violence. The importance of coordination among law enforcement, animal welfare and domestic violence program professionals will be discussed in the context of programs designed to shelter the pets of intimate partner violence survivors. Recent legislative changes in the United States emphasize the relation between human safety and companion animal safety.

Key Learnings:

  1. The significance of animal abuse as a symptom of Conduct Disorder and the significance of the recently added callous/unemotional specifier
  2. The prevalence of animal abuse reported by survivors of intimate partner violence and the potentially deleterious effects of children’s exposure to such abuse
  3. The challenges facing survivors of intimate partner violence who want to escape violence but are concerned about how such a departure might affect the welfare of their pets


Dr. Frank Ascione is an internationally-renowned researcher and author who has published numerous articles on the development of antisocial and prosocial behaviour in children. He has co-edited two books [Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence: Readings in Research and Application (1998), Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention (1998)], and authored Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering Pets for Women Who Are Battered. Children and Animals: Exploring the Roots of Kindness and Cruelty was published in 2005 by Purdue University Press (the book has also been translated into Japanese and Italian editions). The International Handbook of Animal Abuse and Cruelty: Theory, Research and Application, edited by Dr. Ascione, was published in May 2008. In September 2010, he was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Waltham Foundation to study children exposed to intimate partner violence and to animal abuse. Dr. Ascione was selected to receive the 2001 Distinguished Scholar Award from the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations and the International Society for Anthrozoology. Dr. Ascione served as the inaugural American Humane Endowed Chair and Executive Director of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (UD GSSW) from September 2009 until June 2012. He is currently a Scholar-in-Residence at the UD GSSW.

Read our interview with Dr. Frank Ascione here!